I’m confused. I hear there is some kind of celebration of a black leader going on in Washington today, Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, except that it’s somebody else. I think I’ll skip whoever this poser may be, and celebrate Dr. King instead for his conservative principles.
Scott writes movingly below about King’s prophetic gifts and courage, and rightly so. I appended a brief note about how King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” contains a short treatise about natural law that is a serious difficulty and deep embarrassment for today’s liberals, who wish to acknowledge and empower nothing higher than an individual’s own will:
One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.
In addition, as with his “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington in 1963, King in Birmingham called for America to live up to its principles and promises, rather than attacking America’s principles and promises as fraudulent like Obama’s long-time pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or most other Zinn-Chomsky style leftists today. (Interesting, by the way, that a Southern Baptist preacher would invoke the Roman Catholic figures Augustine and Aquinas in this argument.)
People forget these conservative and deeply American strains to King’s message. At the time of his death he was contending against the Black Panthers and the more radical fringe of the New Left (even as he turned against Vietnam and started saying dodgy things about socialism). “I can’t agree with the move toward a kind of Black Nationalism,” King told the New York Times in a cautiously worded criticism of Stokely Carmichael. King’s murder swung events toward radicalism. Washington DC civil rights leader Julius Hobson, for example, argued that “The next black man who comes into the black community preaching non-violence should be violently dealt with by the black people who hear him. The Martin Luther King concept of nonviolence died with him.”
On Saturday, CNN took note of the fact that many conservatives consider King a hero. And look at who they quote:
“He was against all policies based on race,” says Peter Schramm, a conservative historian. “The basis of his attack on segregation was ‘judge us by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.’ That’s a profound moral argument.”
Go Peter! (By the way, there’s almost no one, except perhaps Peter Myers, who can express the full greatness of Frederick Douglass better than Peter.) And see also more of this tribute from Human Events. I suspect if there were a rigorous content analysis done of who invokes which parts of King, you’d find conservatives cite King’s thought much more than liberals, who only invoke his out-of-focus image and legacy. In this respect, Clarence Thomas is the real heir to King today—not Jesse Jackson or Obama.